First Trial Scheduled for Ponchatoula Rape Case
By Debra Lemoine
November 16, 2006
Amite — The first of the seven members of a Ponchatoula church charged by a grand jury with raping children will go on trial in August, District Judge Doug Hughes ordered Wednesday.
Austin "Trey" Bernard III, 38, of Hammond will be tried on two counts of aggravated rape starting Aug. 27 in 21st Judicial District Court in Amite. No trial date has been set for the other six indicted members of the congregation.
Bernard is among the nine members of the now-defunct Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula arrested in May 2005 in an investigation focusing on complaints of alleged rape of children. He also is the only one of the seven indicted who has not gotten out of jail on bond.
Some of those arrested allegedly told investigators that the sexual abuse was part of a Satanic ritual. No physical evidence of the alleged rites were found during searches at the church and the suspects' homes, investigators have said.
During Wednesday's hearing in 21st Judicial District Court at Amite, Bernard's attorney, Al Bensabet, noted that his motion for discovery — the request for all the evidence against his client to which he is entitled — has not been answered 18 months after his client's indictment.
Hughes noted Bensabet's statement for the record but did not comment further about it.
Assistant District Attorney Don Wall, the lead prosecutor in the case, said after the hearing that he is still going through the voluminous amount of material seized in the case. The materials include everything from computers to furniture stored in a large freight trailer at the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Office.
Wall turned over to the defense a report made by Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Detective Michael DePhillips after DePhillips interviewed Bernard on May 19, 2005. The interview was videotaped, but neither the tape nor its transcript has been turned over to defense.
The interview takes place after Bernard allegedly confessed his involvement to investigators, according to DePhillips' report.
Bernard implicated his ex-wife, who was not indicted, and the wife of the pastor, Robbin Lamonica, 47, of Hammond, who is facing child rape charges. Bernard alleges they participated in a ritual to offer a young girl to Satan by sprinkling the child with blood while inside a pentagram, the report says. Then, Bernard says that each person present allegedly raped the child, the report says.
Bernard also alleges that Robbin and the former pastor, Louis Lamonica, 47, of Hammond, had sex with a different girl in their home. He also allegedly told the detective that Louis Lamonica and another church member who was not arrested allegedly would go to a hotel in New Orleans to have sex with the child involved in the ritual.
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